We’ve all occasionally run into money issues. Maybe we misplaced our wallets or lost track of that $20 bill we stuffed in our pants pocket. Most of the time, it works out, and no one is the wiser.
But Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s money problem goes way beyond all that. She had to file an amended 2017 and 2018 financial disclosure showing she failed to report more than $350,000 in lobbying income.
“We amended our financial forms. It was an error we saw when we were working through my forms this year. Basically, what had happened, which was very simple, I gave my attorneys back in 2018 my salary for 2018,” she said on the radio show “Florida Roundup.”
“It was roughly six months of income from January to when I announced. And we realized that in 2017 gross income also included all of my business income and reimbursements, and that should have also been reported, not just my salary.”
In politics, the headline, more than the story underneath, is what gets you beat. And just a week since formally entering the race for Governor, Fried handed her opponents another headline.
It could have been an innocent mistake, but that may not matter. She just gave Republicans another wide-open line of attack, and you can bet they are gleeful.
Sen. Joe Gruters, also the chair of the Florida GOP, already called on the Legislature to investigate Fried.
Here are just some of the words you might see on top of stories about Fried in the coming months.
Ethics investigation! (Oh wait, that’s already there. Florida GOP Chair Evan Power filed a complaint against her).
Campaign finance violation! (see Gruters, Joe).
Mismanagement! (They’ll get around to that one).
I’m sure they will think of a few more.
You have to know that Republicans did opposition research on Fried since it became clear she wanted DeSantis’ job. To say they despise her puts it mildly.
In a fundraising appeal, Fried called it a “witch hunt.”
I hope she made sure what’s-his-name from Mar-a-Lago doesn’t hold a copyright on that phrase. Florida — indeed, all of America — begs you not to use those words in combination again. A grateful nation will thank you.
Meanwhile, there are only two ways to look at this situation.
If she willfully failed to disclose the income, it’s career-killing.
If it was an unforced error, OK, that’s better, but not by much. Sure, things like that happen. However, if she’s elected Governor, Fried’s management style will come under intense scrutiny. This situation won’t help, and you can place your bets now that it will come up again and again if she gets anywhere close to the nomination.
DeSantis isn’t Fried’s biggest political problem right now, though.
Charlie Crist has been cruising around the state, raising cash while throwing in a few shots at DeSantis. In short, he is behaving as an experienced politician should. His name is still out there, but not with exclamation-mark headlines.
A recent poll gave Crist a huge lead over Fried. Sure it’s way too early, but one thing stood out in that survey. Democrats desperately want to dispatch DeSantis, and they don’t believe (for now, anyway) that Fried can do that. That’s especially true if she has to spend too much time playing defense.
Only 14% in the poll said they believe she can win.
Blunders like the one Fried made will only reinforce that feeling.